After a few months of inactivity on Midwest sports pages, stories and conversations about the Big Ten Network have resurfaced by land (newspaper), air (television) and sea (Internet message boards). Multiple stories have the fledgling network close to deals with Comcast and Time Warner, the nation’s two largest cable companies. That likely would double their fan base and undoubtedly force smaller cable companies, like Mediacom, to follow suit.
But haven’t we seen this before? Negotiations seemed to ramp up before the 2007 football season, then before basketball season, before turning into a mirage. Nothing happened, and fans suffered through several blistering cold nights without watching their favorite basketball teams. Of course, watching Big Ten basketball this year would have given anyone a cold anyway.
I’m sure the rhetoric will heat up by mid-July. The Big Ten’s football media days are way early this year, July 24-25. That gives the BTN ample time to craft immense preseason football coverage during its dead period. It also provides the network a platform for whetting the public appetite for its Big Ten football coverage.
If cable companies don’t add the network by August, look for an all-out assault by the BTN. The network, the league and Fox (which owns 49 percent of the BTN) could justify one year of squabbling, but there’s too much money and prestige at stake to squander another year to bickering. The whole reason to start the network was to provide more coverage to student-athletes and their non-profit institutions. If the BTN can’t fulfill its mission and give as many people the ability to watch its programming, then what good is it? In the same breath, ask the cable companies if they are serving the public good by denying programming to the general public that would generate Super Bowl viewing numbers here in Iowa during a three-hour time block. I think we’ve been on this rodeo before.